How is your relationship with anxiety? How does it show up in your life? Is it debilitating? Does it keep you up at night?
Most of us have a troubling relationship with our anxiety. We see it as our enemy, the one that keeps us up at night, the one that makes us ruminate and worry. Or, we see how it holds us back from life experiences and from peace of mind. We rarely consider what our anxiety was in response to, how it may have helped or protected us at times, and how we can build a more functional relationship with it. All we see is how our anxiety disrupts how we think and feel, both emotionally and physically.
Here’s something you might not hear (or read) every day: anxiety has gotten a bad rap, and it is time to change that. The truth is that anxiety is like any other chronic illness or malady. It has some unfortunate side effects, but it can also be understood and managed to varying degrees of success with anxiety treatment. This requires an understanding of your anxiety, including a thorough awareness of the signs that your anxiety is ramping up.
What are the signs of your anxiety?
You can’t change a relationship with your anxiety unless you know it well. And I know you might be thinking, “Oh, I know my anxiety, trust me. I live with it 24/7.” Well, living with anxiety does not necessarily equate to knowing it. When I talk about knowing your anxiety, I mean step-by-step knowing it, from the beginning to the end. There is a lot of work that can be done at our therapy practice here in Woodland Hills to thoroughly unpack this relationship, including Chain Analysis.
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Chain Analysis is an excellent tool used to identify and uncover all the factors that played a role in you engaging in problematic behavior. By going through the chain of events, you gain a deeper understanding of the function of your behavior as well as the factors that contributed to it. This is what I mean by getting to know your anxiety. Learn the triggers to your anxiety. Notice the anxious thoughts you have that exacerbated your anxiety. Familiarize yourself with the patterns, cues, clues, triggers, and signals that create, maintain, and increase your anxiety.
As you familiarize yourself with these events and triggers, you may be wondering what is behind your anxiety. Understanding the cause of your anxiety may provide clues as to how to unpack and deal with it.
Common causes of anxiety
1. Temperament and childhood experiences
Temperament refers to a natural set of traits that are present from birth. How reactive you were, how friendly you were, and your ability to self-regulate behavior as a child could all have been observed to determine your temperament. Naturally, having a less calm temperament doesn’t mean you are valued any higher or lower than others, but it can indicate a likelihood of struggling with anxiety later in life.
Trauma in childhood can also impact your ability to regulate your responses to events and increase the odds that you’ll struggle with anxiety at some point later in life. Neither temperament nor early childhood trauma means that you are doomed to be anxious forever; neither was your “choice,” and sometimes it can feel like being punished for
something beyond your control as you deal with the ramifications. It can be overwhelming to have lived an entire lifetime in an anxious state. You are not doomed to “pay” forever for circumstances beyond your control; both are manageable with some work and guidance from a mental health professional.
2. Family history of anxiety:
Another key feature to getting to know your anxiety is understanding how it has been dealt with in your family history. Start with your immediate family members and explore the family norms and patterns around anxiety. How was anxiety management modeled in your family growing up? Were you surrounded by people who could get anxious at the drop of a hat? Or were you surrounded by others who would downplay anxiety and engage in name-calling, such as “Don’t be so sensitive!” or “You are such a drama queen!”? If the people who raised you modeled anxiety as a default emotion, that might be all you know.
On the other hand, if your temperament and/or experiences led to you feeling more anxious than those around you, the isolation and frustration of being talked down to or disregarded would have only served to increase your feelings of insecurity. You may feel that anxiety is in your DNA and inescapable, but that does not have to be the case. Unpacking a longer history of anxiety simply means that you go further back in time to evaluate your situation.
3. Illness, either mental or physical:
When you are faced with any sort of ongoing struggle, it can be a source of anxiety. Understandably, both physical and mental illnesses can be impacted because you feel stress regarding treatment and/or the future. Your doctor may check for heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and a list of other illnesses and symptoms that can be linked to anxiety. Depending on medications that you may be taking for illnesses, you may also feel anxious as a side effect. Anxiety often goes hand in hand with other mental health disorders, such as depression or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Also, with habits and/or behaviors and/or addictions such as drugs and alcohol and withdrawal from their use. If you struggle with any of these issues and find yourself feeling anxious, there is likely a correlation.
4. Stress buildup:
It seems like everywhere we look these days, there is some cause to feel stressed out. Employment insecurity, financial insecurity, income inequality, civil and human rights violations or abuses, the pandemic… the list goes on and on. You may experience stress as an accumulation of little things over time, a few major setbacks that appear out of nowhere. It is natural to be overwhelmed by compounding issues. Perhaps, you can handle the pressures of work alright, but then you experience a death in the family, and it’s too much. Maybe you have been in a high-pressure situation for too long, and your body is fatigued from processing the stress it causes. Pressure is hard on us both physically and mentally, and the resulting signals the body sends for help are the hallmarks of anxiety.
You may have reached your limit with feeling anxious but struggle with the idea of dealing with the issue of your anxiety. If the thought of confronting and working on your stress causes you to feel dread, you’ll want to consider why that is. What is holding you back from having a more peaceful relationship with your anxiety? Do you think it is a sign of weakness? Do you feel like it is an impossible task to manage anxiety? Have you hated your stress for so long that you think you’ll always despise it and never come to terms? Whatever your concern is, the truth is that you can take steps to befriend your anxiety. They are not overnight solutions, but they are worth exploring, as you deserve more peace of mind!
3 Steps to befriending your anxiety: Tips from an Anxiety Therapist
1. Normalize anxiety for yourself:
Sometimes in life, we find that the thing isn’t nearly as bad as our avoidance and/or fear of it. Anxiety itself is not an insurmountable obstacle; the odds are not against you if you are facing a lifetime of dealing with anxiety. The truth is that anxiety is a normal emotion. Like all less-than-pleasant emotions, it is helpful to be able to manage it.
To do so, you have to take its teeth out by coming to terms with the fact that anxiety is not your enemy. It is a cue or series of cues that something is amuck. Something needs your attention. Something isn’t working for you. It may be a cue that you have unresolved trauma or that your stressors are piling up. It may be a cue that you need some adjustment in how you are handling other health issues. Whatever it is, it is something that you can and will go through again, like many other people. You are not alone in experiencing anxiety, which means that there are ample resources for you to benefit from.
2. Approach your anxiety mindfully and compassionately:
You may resent the negative impact anxiety has had on your life thus far, and that is totally understandable. Also, you may feel stigmatized by struggling with your mental health. You may feel upset or embarrassed about attending therapy to deal with it. While these are common reactions to coping with anxiety, they are not the most helpful.
Put some quiet time into reflecting on your anxiety. Do your best to be curious about it, rather than judgmental. Approach your exploration and reflection the way you would if your friend were struggling. We tend to be way harder on ourselves than we are on others.
You may find it helpful to think of your anxiety as a well-meaning but intrusive friend or family member. Give it a name, and speak to it when you can. “Bobbi-Jo, I understand why you are worried about this issue, but we know from experience that it will probably work out.”. Or, “Hector, thanks for the heads up, but I don’t want to fixate on that problem right now.”. While your anxiety is a part of who you are, you may appreciate separating yourself from it while you’re exploring. The space you create may help you be more neutral, mindful, compassionate, and less judgmental.
3. Do The Things while feeling anxious:
One of the worst ways we get in our way is in thinking that we have to feel a certain way before we can take action. You know the classic, “I will do it once I feel ready” or, “I will wait until my anxiety dies down or until I don’t feel scared anymore”? We want everything to be perfect before we take that next step. But of course, if everything were already perfect, we wouldn’t need to take any steps at all! The fact is that you’ll have to start in less-than-ideal circumstances.
Even if it feels impossible, it is still important to try. This means breaking goals down into smaller pieces and tackling them one at a time, and it means letting go of all-or-nothing thinking. You may want to reflect on the things that trigger your anxiety and curate a list. Perhaps you want to ask a trusted loved one to accompany you. Not all triggers are predictable, so not all can be planned. That’s okay. If you practice working through what you can predict or seek, it will reassure you at times when you are caught off guard that you can persevere. That confidence will allow you to do more Things while feeling anxious, which will, in turn, build even more confidence.
Begin Anxiety Treatment in Los Angeles, CA today
Always remember that your anxiety developed in response to something. You have made it this far, to this day, regardless of the trials and tribulations you have faced.
Your anxiety may have been a burden throughout those times, but it may also have guided or informed you.
It would be hard to know for sure whether each instance was positive, negative, or somewhere in between. But, you can assume your anxiety has been a companion through tough times. Allowing it to control your reactions, your plans, and your goals is not the best way to go through life. So, it is best to confront anxiety and begin to work through it. Remember to be forgiving of yourself and keep in mind that your anxiety is not a monster. It may be strong, but you are stronger.
Contact us to start anxiety treatment in-person or online at our Los Angeles, CA-based therapy practice. After you reach out, one of our staff members will get back to you no later than 24 hours to schedule a free phone consultation.
Other Services at Embracing You Therapy
Here at Embracing You Therapy Group, we invite you to explore with us how life would be different if you had more control over your thoughts and emotions, and we invite you to consider that it is possible to accept things just as they are, embracing imperfections to create a gentler place for calm in your life.
At our mental health practice in Woodland Hills, CA, we offer individual therapy and couple’s therapy. Both Dr. Menije and Cindy Sayani, AMFT offer virtual therapy to treat mental health concerns including panic attacks, OCD, phobias, and stress; Mood disorders including depression; Relationship issues, both in couples therapy and with individual clients; Perinatal mental health issues such as postpartum depression, and Addiction.
Let’s learn what drives your unique perspective on anxiety and stress. Then, let’s find the tools-your unique tools-that help you respond to life in a healthy, calm way. Contact us today for your complimentary 20-minute phone consultation with our Client Care Coordinator.